FIFA ethics panel to begin World Cup votes probe

The ethics panel of world soccer’s governing body is set to

begin a three-day hearing to determine whether two voters and at

least two candidates should be barred from the 2018 and 2022 World

Cup bidding contests for alleged corruption.

The unprecedented session that starts Monday in Zurich will

shape a tense final stretch of lobbying before FIFA’s executive

committee chooses the hosts in a secret ballot on Dec. 2. The poll

could proceed without Reynald Temarii and Amos Adamu, who are

suspended from the 24-man body and will argue for reinstatement

before the ethics committee.

The independent panel led by lawyer and former Switzerland

player Claudio Sulser gets its authority from the executive

committee chaired by FIFA president Sepp Blatter. FIFA statutes

allow ethics decisions to be challenged at its appeal committee and

then before the Court of Arbitration for Sport.

Blatter has said the ethics probe should ”bring back

credibility to football.”

Awarding a World Cup is FIFA’s most important decision, with

each tournament required to earn around 95 percent of the governing

body’s income every four years.

That process has been rocked by allegations made by the

Britain’s Sunday Times last month. The newspaper published secretly

filmed interviews with current and former FIFA officials that

suggested voters could be bribed, and that bidders were flouting

the rules by striking vote-trading pacts.

Those being investigated have stressed their innocence and

expressed confidence that the ethics panel will find no conclusive

evidence of corruption.

”I have no doubt that I will vote on Dec. 2,” Temarii, the

suspended FIFA vice president, told The Associated Press last week.

He said the ethics hearing would let him show that ”grossly

manipulated” interviews were edited to make him appear

corrupt.

Temarii, the Tahitian president of Oceania’s confederation, and

Amos Adamu of Nigeria were filmed in an undercover sting that

appeared to show them offering their votes for sale in exchange for

soccer projects at home.

Asian confederation president Mohamed Bin Hammam also has

defended his native Qatar, a 2022 candidate, against allegations of

colluding with 2018 contender Spain-Portugal.

”I can bet you (that) you will never see any proof,” Bin

Hammam told a Swiss television channel in a recent interview posted

on his personal website.

FIFA has not identified which of the nine bidders it is

investigating. The European contest for 2018 is between England,

Russia and the joint bids of Belgium-Netherlands and

Spain-Portugal. The 2022 race involves the United States,

Australia, Japan, South Korea and Qatar.

The ethics committee had already set a meeting for Oct. 20 to

examine bidders’ behavior when the Sunday Times published its first

allegations about Temarii and Adamu. A second round of revelations

came the next weekend.

Blatter’s former right-hand man at FIFA, Michel Zen-Ruffinen,

was shown telling reporters posing as lobbyists that Qatar and

Spain-Portugal had arranged to secure seven of the 24 votes. A

simple majority is needed to win.

”This is not just a rumor, that’s fact,” said Zen-Ruffinen,

who succeeded his boss Blatter to serve as FIFA’s general secretary

from 1998-2002 and was offering to work as a consultant.

Blatter is likely to play a big role if the ethics committee

offers up advise rather than binding verdicts on Wednesday. The

FIFA president called his executive group into emergency session in

Zurich on Friday to address the ethics decisions.

The ethics committee also will consider cases against four

former FIFA executive committee members who, like Temarii and

Adamu, are serving provisional suspensions from soccer duty.

Tunisian lawyer Slim Aloulou, Amadou Diakite of Mali, Botswana’s

Ismail Bhamjee and Ahongalu Fusimalohi from Tonga all reportedly

advised undercover reporters how to bribe FIFA voters and how much

to pay.